Tour’s Books Blog

June 19, 2009

A booklover’s quandry: What do you do with books you hate or just don’t want?

Filed under: Editorial,General — toursbooks @ 4:35 pm

My whole life I have struggled with a quandary of my own making.  I am a voracious reader but often find I do not like a book or simply have no intention of ever reading it again.  Sometimes, I actively hate a book.  Simple answer, throw it out – put it in the recycling bin.  Well, no.  You see, books are not meant to just be discarded.  Even awful books – books so badly written you wonder how they ever made it to print.  Books whose content leaves you enraged.  Books that are so freaking boring they should come with warning labels.  Books with content utterly unsuitable for any under 21 or with more than 3 operating brain cells.  The pages are too small to wrap trash in them and contrary to The Day After Tomorrow, burning books in a fireplace is no easy thing.  That’s why they have bonfires and use wood!  The pages are too tightly packed together and tend to self extinguish or smolder.  And some books I might not be interested in, but others might, especially non-fiction books.

One of my tricks with awful books is to leave them somewhere that the elements will cause rapid deterioration so I can chuck them in with the recycling with a clear conscience.  I give books away, joined PaperbackSwap (PBS), I ‘loan’ books to friends hoping never to see them again in most cases, I donate them – and STILL I’m left with those books where the story is just so boring/unbelievable/stupid, where the writing is execrable and/or the story is too racy – pornographic for some – to just give away.  Now many of the racy books are really good, but I have to be careful about who gets them.  Racy, ‘smutty’, books are just not everyone’s cup of tea.  I trade them on PBS, but I find most of us want to keep the same books. 🙂  I sure that says something about our character, I’m just not sure what that is. 🙂  Thing is, a bad smutty book is really difficult to get rid of.  I mean, think about it, it needs to be a complete stranger that can never hunt you down for foisting off this schiesse in print form on them.  I want to keep my friends, so they’re out.  And those people I don’t like – well, never would I give them fodder to call me ‘dirty old lady who reads smutty books’.  So what to do?  I was rescued by ebooks.

I admit it, I’m not ebooks biggest fan, but they have their advantage.  For whatever reason I have no mental barrier to deleting a book I didn’t like and would never read again if it’s in electronic format.  I delete files all the time.  Remove old software, games, photos, text files – pfffffft and they’re gone.  Yes, I can recover them as long as I don’t empty the trash and don’t overwrite the disk area, but I feel like I’ve done something positive.  Removed a thorn, and annoyance, a piece of junk cluttering things up.

The curious part is, I still feel a little bad, but not paralyzed as I am when trying to discard print books.  It must be the conditioning of my youth spent working in libraries.  I’ve always had a love of books.  I asked for specific books as gifts.  (OMG – I was such a geek, long before there were such things.)  High on my Christmas wish list were those coffee table books that always come out around the holidays – and I’d pick a book about Tutankhamen or archeology. (I was likely the only person in the 7th grade that had read Gods, Graves and Scholars and everything Leonard Cottrell ever wrote.)  Then I would choose a cookbook.  My mother was not a great cook.  She thought cakes were born in a box.  I became a dedicated scratch cook.  Needless to say, I was self-taught.  My mother, a teacher and department chairman was in hog heaven.  I think she created a slip stream as she ran from the kitchen, grabbed a Perry Mason, and proceeded to ‘forget’ everything she knew about cooking – limited as it was.  Shrewd move and one I only understood and appreciated in retrospect. My obsession meant I acquired a LOT of cookbooks in my library and added more over the years in my travels.  The best ones are stained, worn and in rather shabby condition.  You’ll pry them from cold dead hands.  Plus I was always a reader of non-fiction, especially in my youth when English history was second only to my love of Egyptian history.  The Plantagenet kings and queens were my favorites.  And biography.  I loved biography.  My bedroom had a 15 foot long wall of bookshelves packed SOLID with hardcovers alone.

Many years later I decided to downsize my personal library and get rid of many of the European art and art history books I had collected over the years.  These were BEAUTIFUL books.  Many had the pictures of the art printed separately and then hand mounted into the books.  In the days when a typical clerk made $80 a week, these books cost that and more at the time.  The library refused them!  Every book even had its dust jacket wrapped in a clear library cover to protect it.  It’s not like I offered them books with damage or something, they didn’t want them. Period.  SO I offered them around and couldn’t find a single taker.  Six cartons of the best quality art books and not one taker.  I was telling this tale to a vendor who called on me and lo and behold, her daughter just graduated as an art history major, was dead broke, and would love the books.  I personally carted all those books to work and transferred them (with the vendors help) to another car.  Think about – a small fortune in books, pristine, beautiful, and no one was interested.  They were finer than those my library owned and they REFUSED!  They wouldn’t even look at them!  You’d think they would cherry pick the best of the lot, but no – no ‘used books’.  What the hell is a library but a depository of ‘used books’?  The library was on my shit list and the vendor’s daughter sent me a wonderful thank-you letter.

Today, there is the internet and many sites that allow you to sell or swap books.  I probably could have sold half or more of those art books, but they deserved a good home where they would be treasured as they deserve.  I kept all my Native American and Western art books and all my history and archeology books – and way too many other books.  I kept a lending library at work and every 6 months I’d clear it out and give one of the men cases of books for the veteran’s home.  Most of the romance I sent to a seniors home.  Now that I work from home, I am once again stuck.  I did, FINALLY, discard many old novels, last year.  Damaged paperbacks too.  All went to recycling.  But it took help and a kind of ‘intervention’ to get me to do it.  I’m just not strong enough on my own.  They’re BOOKS!  Another neighbor saw and asked for the books!  I gave 10+ cartons of books to the Friends of the Library and church rummage sales with her help.  Now I give her cartons of paperbacks and hardcovers several times a year, but still keep getting more ‘keepers.’

Sigh!  Even with PBS, the piles grow.  I am again facing a crisis of space.  My computer has a LOT of room of the hard drive and I have memory sticks with more capacity.  Much easier to store than paper books.  But still – I just bought about 20 of my favorite ebooks in print form.  Why?  I love books.  I love holding the in my hand.  I love looking at them on  shelves.  I love libraries.  There’s something about the smell and feel of books that no ebook can ever replace.  Ebooks are OK for stuff that just ‘disposable’, of limited interest, or simply not in print, but for me, it’s just not the same.  Actually, the best part of ebooks is the fact I can ‘dispose’ of the junk with a minimum of guilt.  The worst part is I cannot share the  good ones with my friends.

So here I sit, ever more space getting allotted to books and knowing full well I must do SOMETHING about this addiction, yet unable to make the tough decisions.  200 mass market paperbacks are sitting on the TBR pile alone.  EEK!  Help!


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